Common Misunderstandings Related to Advaita Vedanta
Ved?nta is a very deep and delicate subject. Understanding it requires utmost dedication and preparedness. There are some errors I come across routinely in my discussions with people, so here are a few of them I addressed for our readers:
1) The Self can’t be experienced: The human mind is designed to go outwards (or even inwards) to gain experience. That is good, it allows us to innovate and progress in our worldly lives. However, when it comes to gaining ?tm? jñ?nam, the mind again looks for experience of an object called ?tm?. This will fail miserable. ?tm? is the very Self, the subject. Only an object endowed with attributes can be experienced. The consciousness, which is the Self, cannot be known as an object of experience. The Self can only be understood through the process of acquiring jñ?nam through the timeless veda utterances. Tat tvam asi [Thou art That] is the teaching of the Guru, aham brahman asmi [I am Absolute Reality] is the understanding of the student.
2) Re: Internet knowledge: Swami Google-?nanda and Brahmach?rini Wikipedia are not reliable teachers of Vedic knowledge. Please do not use search engines to learn scriptures, they will only add to the confusion.
3) Re: Finding a Guru: There is no substitute for a living teacher. If a person was not your Guru WHILE he was alive, after his passing away you cannot consider him your teacher. A guru is supposed to remove your ignorance in an interactive way. Those who are no longer with us simply cannot help us with our doubts.
Also be careful, too many cooks spoil the broth. This is to be avoided at all costs, please stick to one parampara if it is clarity that you wish to have, having a teacher from all possible faiths is not going to help better understand sh?stra. This holds especially true when one is starting out on their journey and do not have a refined viveka to filter through
4) M?l? Japa is NOT a substitute for knowledge to gain mok?ha: Many falsely believe only chanting a particular mantra is the fastest way to mok?ha. This is as far from the truth as it can get. Bhakti (devotion) leads to jñ?nam (knowledge), and self knowledge alone is liberation. Krishna Bhagwan is crystal clear about this, it is unfortunate that people misinterpret his teachings. Gita Ch 4, verse 38 says ‘there is nothing more purifying than knowledge’. Gaining ?tm? jñ?nam (self knowledge) from a qualified teacher who can handle sh?stra (scripture) as a pram??am (means of knowledge) is the only way to go.
5) Shraddha [trust in the teacher and scriptures] makes life easy… Very easy: Debate only generates heat, and no light. Either we argue or we learn. Humility is the key to opening the doors to knowledge, if one approaches the scriptures with a challenging attitude, the Vedas will always elude such a person. Sincere seeker-ship is always rewarded. shraddh? is faith in one’s dev-guru-sh?stra (god, guru, scripture).
6) Re: Tradition: Respect the Vedic culture. Culture is the medium through which knowledge is propagated. You cannot separate knowledge from traditional practices. If one dies, the other will not last very long. Vedic culture and religion go hand in hand and are inseparable. Both need your support. Both will support you.
7) Re: Purpose of Meditation: Entering into meditation will NOT enlighten a person. Meditation can be divided into four types: a) Relaxation b) Concentration c) Expansion d) Value assimilation.
Relaxation does just what it says. Concentration hones your ability to focus on a vastu (thing) for longer uninterrupted periods. Expansion is where your cognition reaches out to incorporate a vishva rUpa of this jagat/ishvara, wherein you try to visualize yourself from the smallest particle, to the farthest reaches of space and time, where nothing in the universe is separate from you. Value-based meditation is where you bring about a transformation in thoughts.
Meditation before gaining knowledge is a good conditioning program to prepare your mind for knowledge, also called up?sana yoga. Meditation after studying scriptures is a program to help assimilate knowledge, also known as nidhidhy?sanan Of course to gain j?van-mukti/mok?ha, sh?stric vidy? is indispensable.
8 ) There aren’t MANY gods: So many needless Vishnu vs Shiva fights can be avoided. Vishnu and Shiva are manifestations of the same ?shvara, presented to you in whichever form you prefer. Same goes with other representations such as Ganesha, M?t?ji etc.The whole purpose of this diversity is to appreciate ?shvara’s creation, not create divisions within ?shvara… Every form is a form of ?shvara alone. This is the beauty of Advaita which so few understand and appreciate. To be clear, there is only one ?shvara. Nay, there is ONLY ?shvara.
9) Ved?nta is a means of self-knowledge: Upanishads stand as a consistent part of the Vedas, there are no contradictions. The former half of the Vedas treat you as a doer, prescribing necessary actions/karmas that you can perform in the form of rituals, prayers, duties etc, the latter half reveals the nature of the very inquirer.
10) Different religions do NOT lead to the same goal: All religions are not the same. Often I read posts like. Church = Temple = Mosque = 6 letters. Bible = Quran = Geeta = 5 letters, so all religions teach the same thing. While I can appreciate the intention, it is just a dishonest pseudo secular way to look at things.
The goal of most other religions is a temporary heaven. Logic says that a limited action cannot earn a permanent result. Limited actions on earth can only buy you limited stay in heaven, the concept of eternal heaven and hell are logically faulty.
The goal of a Vaidika is mok?ha, and that is absolute freedom from all limitations – bodily or otherwise. As P?jya Sw?mi Day?nanda ji says, when you are in heaven, you still may have to struggle to get a “front seat” to see your favorite God! So let us accept that all religions are different, and let us accommodate the differences without badmouthing them, and focus on our own
11) Different yogas do NOT give the same result: Karma yoga, jñ?na yoga, bhakti yoga and dhy?na yoga are not different ways to achieve the same end. Karma yoga and dhy?na yoga (or more precisely, up?sana yoga) are preparatory steps to achieve jn?ana. Bhakti is the attitude with which we conduct all our activities. Ultimately it boils down to mok?ha through jñ?na alone: jñ?nam is equivalent to mok?ha.
12) ?tm? is NOT a part/product/property of Brahman: ?tm? is brahman, that’s all.
13) ?tm? does NOT take rebirth: ?tm? is often mistaken to be the s?kshma sharira (subtle body: the mind, sense powers, powers of action and the prANas). It is the subtle body that goes from birth to birth, inhabiting one physical body after another.
14) There is only ONE ?tm?: The ?tm? is an all pervading entity, and there is only one ?tm?. Rather, there is ONLY ?tm?/brahman, and this world of names and forms is a manifestation. When one dreams, a single individual creates an entire universe of forms within his own mind, and then enters that very dream to experience it, and now the dream that was within the individual suddenly appears to be a real world outside of the individual.
I would like to credit fellow Ved?ntin, Peter Bonnici ji, for editing this article for me earlier on, and also for shedding light on many Advaitic concepts.